PTSD: Symptoms, Medication & Treatment

Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Did you know that over three percent of adults in the United States have post-traumatic stress disorder? Learn about PTSD, its symptoms, and how PTSD is treated. Then test your knowledge with a quiz.

What Is PTSD?

Jen is an elementary school teacher who was just diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Last year, Jen was involved in a terrible car accident on her way to work. Jen spent months in physical therapy learning how to walk again. A week after her accident, she started having recurrent nightmares about car accidents, which interfered with her sleep. The first time that Jen attempted to drive a car after her accident, flashes of the crash replayed in her head. She became fearful of cars, refused to drive altogether, and also avoided riding in cars unless it was absolutely necessary. After spending a year of time in recovery, Jen was given clearance by her doctor to return to work. Though she initially enjoyed her job, she no longer found pleasure in teaching and contemplated quitting. At the suggestion of her family, Jen went to see a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with PTSD.

PTSD is a mental disorder that occurs in people who have experienced traumatic events. In the example above, Jen's car accident triggered her PTSD. Being a victim of or witnessing violence, war, natural disasters (e.g. hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes), and military combat can also lead to PTSD.

Being a victim of domestic violence can cause PTSD.
domestic violence

You do not have to be directly involved with the traumatic event to trigger PTSD; sometimes knowing that someone we love has experienced such trauma is enough. It is estimated that 3.5% of adults in the United States are diagnosed with PTSD, with the percentage being higher for women than men.


Jen experience several of the common symptoms associated with PTSD. Jen suffered fromre-experiencing the car crash, which includes flashbacks and bad dreams about the traumatic accident. Jen became avoidant; she stayed away from cars because they reminded her of her accident, and she lost interest in teaching. Other avoidant symptoms include emotional numbness, trying to forget or avoid the traumatic event, and dissociation. Hypervigilance or hyperarousal includes being 'jumpy' or easily startled, angry outbursts, and trouble sleeping.

Treatment & Medication

Like most people with PTSD, Jen was treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Jen's psychiatrist used cognitive therapy to help Jen become aware of how her thinking patterns are contributing to her PTSD. The goal of cognitive therapy is to replace Jen's maladaptive thoughts with more adaptive ones. In addition to cognitive therapy, Jen's therapist may also used exposure therapy in order to help Jen face her fears so that she can learn how to cope with them. A common exposure therapy approach involves using a virtual reality simulation to allow Jen to re-enter the setting of the accident. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing or EDMR is another form of psychotherapy that can be used to treat Jen's PTSD. EMDR is a psychotherapy approach that combines pieces of several different psychotherapies, including exposure therapy that can be used to modify Jen's reaction to her memories of her accident.

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